When Stanisha F. heard about Thrival Academy during her lunch period last school year, she was intrigued but skeptical. Still, she grabbed one of the program brochures, took it home and asked her mom for advice.
Could she really leave her family for three months to study abroad in Southeast Asia?
The answer was confirmed when Stanisha took a chartered bus from Indianapolis to Chicago on January 4, 2019, with more than 30 of her Thrival classmates and boarded an airplane for a 15-hour flight to Thailand.
While she’s traveled outside of Indianapolis before, this is Stanisha’s first time ever traveling outside of the United States.
Students, along with program coordinator India Hui, are spending the next three months living in the countryside of Thailand, studying the agriculture, experiencing the culture and customs, and attending classes.
It’s an exciting time, but also a trying and life-changing one for students as the face living in a new environment, being away from home and their families, and conforming to new and different customs.
Stanisha, 16, hopes it will be a time for growth.
“I’m just looking forward to something different … seeing how people that don’t have as much as me, but they still find a way to make it work,” she said. “That will help make me more grateful and appreciative. I want to be able to understand a different way of looking at things.”
Erin W. believes living in Thailand will help him find himself.
“I’m looking forward to learning who I am as a person and what I can accomplish on my own without my family and friends guiding me,” he said. “But I’m fearful of what will happen when I come back. Can I handle the change? I’m also worried that people will see me as a different person.”
To prepare for the trip, as well as the emotions students will have to deal with while away, Thrival Academy incorporates identity work into its curriculum to help students gain a better understanding of themselves.
“We do a lot of identity work to look at how they will be perceived and received and how they deal with the stereotypes that might be put on them in a foreign country — because of race and gender,” said Hui. “By the time they arrive in Thailand, they’re much more self-aware.”
In Thailand, students work on curriculum units and attend academic classes. According to Hui, the first unit will be on agriculture and specifically environmental science as they explore organic verses nonorganic farming and its impact. In English class, they will work on argumentative writing with a focus on farming.
However, one of the cool things about Thrival Academy is that everything isn’t learned in a textbook, it’s also obtained through firsthand experience.
The students and Hui live in student housing with Rustic Pathways staff while in Thailand, but they also spend time living with famers (about two to three students per household).
“They go into a village and live with an organic farmer or a conventional farmer and they learn from them, and then they gather all of the info they need for their debates for or against organic farming,” said Hui.
Staying with strangers is not what these students are used to, but all of the families are vetted and do this on a regular basis for Rustic Pathways. “Soon, students and the village families become like family,” said Hui.
“It’s so interesting to see. The kids will come back talking about how their Thailand dads took them fishing or how the families took them out to explore,” added Hui. “It’s an experience that shapes who they are becoming.”
While in Thailand, Hui is documenting and sharing the students’ experiences. Follow them via the academy’s Instagram account by clicking here.
Thrival Academy is a one-year study-abroad program for high school juniors that incorporates traditional classroom experiences here in the states with three months in Thailand. The IPS alternative educational program is housed on the third floor inside the Arsenal Building at Arsenal Technical High School.